An open letter to Richard Lindzen
Last week, I was fortunate enough to get a ticket to a meeting in the Palace of Westminster at which MIT Professor Richard Lindzen was the guest speaker. Unfortunately, as a result of frustration with what I saw as Lindzen’s failure to explain the relevance of palaeoclimatology to our understanding of the way in which the Earth regulates its temperature, I blew my chance to ask a question. However, Prof. Lindzen kindly invited me to email them to him instead. I know it was a bit cheeky of me but, rather than email him the 3 questions I had prepared, I decided to email him questions arising from what he actually said instead. What follows is a copy of my rather long (whose fault is that?) email (I sent to him the next day) – only very slightly amended as a consequence of a subsequent exchange of emails (in which he did not answer any of my questions)…
***UPDATE: Because this is such a long post you may wish to skip ahead and come back later (may be). If so, go to this simple 17 sentence summary first or instead!***
Dear Professor Lindzen,
RE: My questions arising from listening to your talk entitled ‘Global Warming: How to Approach the Science (Climate models and the evidence)’, at the Palace of Westminster on Wednesday 22 February 2012
Given Viscount Monckton’s curtailment of our discussion, I am grateful to you for offering to answer my questions via email. I trust you have (had) a safe journey back to the USA.
In order that you may appreciate where I am coming from on this subject, please note that I am 47 years old and have over 25 years of professional work experience as a mine geologist and hydrogeologist; mostly having worked in environmental consultancy but also for the Environment Agency (the equivalent of your EPA). However, in addition to a BSc in Geology and an MSc in Hydrogeology, I now have an MA in Environmental Politics. (For more background on me, please see the ‘About’ page of my blog). In addition to my academic qualifications, I am a Fellow of the Geological Society of London (GSL) and a Chartered Geologist and, although I do not speak for the GSL (which can and does speak for itself – as does the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)), I am copying this email to GSL Vice-President Professor Colin Summerhayes (who also asked you the question about the Palaeocene Eocene Thermal Maximum [PETM] at the meeting).
As you might imagine, I had come to the meeting with 3 questions prepared in the hope that I might get to ask at least one. Unfortunately, I never got as far as my first question (and was not allowed a second attempt)… However, given that the moment has now passed, I have decided that it would make more sense to pose my questions to you as they arise from the notes I made while you were talking. This email is therefore rather long but, even if it takes you a while (given all your other commitments), I hope you will be willing and able to respond in due course (e.g. please feel free to insert your responses in a distinctive font colour and return my email).
I hope you will not be offended but, I must confess to being somewhat surprised that your talk was not significantly different from the version on the Internet (i.e. as delivered 21 months ago at the ICCC4 in May 2010). In addition, although perfectly polite, I was disappointed by your seemingly repeated insinuation that the IPCC is a politically alarmist institution and/or that just about anyone that disagrees with you (e.g. Martin Rees and Ralph Cicerone) is part of some kind of global conspiracy to foist environmental alarmism on a credulous world; presumably for reasons of personal (scientific) or political expediency. You will gather from all this that I do not buy-in to the assertion that Climategate was anything other than a mendacious attempt to discredit climate science and scientists, which was all the more obvious after its repetition last year.
Therefore, although I am not questioning whether you believe what you say to be true (as that would be to question your integrity and/or intellectual honesty); I am bound to ask – where is the actual evidence for this? Furthermore, I am also bound to say that, on the contrary, there is very clear historical documentary evidence for an extensive, business-led, campaign to downplay, deny or dismiss a whole sequence of environmental problems over recent decades (e.g. see Merchants of Doubt). It is because of this that, despite what I consider to be my sound grasp of the physical basis for concern over anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD), my Lack of Environment blog tends to focus on the politics underlying its denial – and the denial of all other environmental problems (e.g. your previous advocacy work for and on behalf of the tobacco industry). However, I digress… As promised, here are my thoughts regarding your presentation:
In addition to the foregoing, I would make one further observation regarding your criticism of the IPCC: As you must know from first-hand experience, by virtue of the way the IPCC was set-up by UN-member governments, all of its reports are subject to line-by-line and word-by-word scrutiny; such that everything it has ever published has tended to be optimistic, under-stated and/or couched in vague and convoluted caveats. Furthermore, I should hope that you would also acknowledge that its AR4 documents (2007) are also now out-of-date?
In essence, your optimism appears to be founded upon your conviction that climate sensitivity is low. However, the fact remains that the last time the Earth experienced 450ppm of atmospheric CO2 (a level that we now seem certain to exceed) was 35 million years ago when global average temperatures were 4 Celsius warmer than prior to the Industrial Revolution; at which time Antarctica was ice-free. Furthermore, all existing life on Earth is adapted to the way things are now. Therefore, it is utterly irrelevant that it may have been significantly warmer in the more distant past. Do I really have to remind you that modern humans (cities, cultivation and civilisation) would not be here if it were not for the fact that both climate and sea levels have been remarkably stable for at least 7,000 years?
You expressed surprise at the fact that academics choose to be alarmed; whereas the public are sceptical. This seems a remarkable piece of reality inversion to me; and makes me wonder who you would consult if you were concerned that you might have a serious life-threatening medical condition? Surely the public’s scepticism and/or cynicism owes more to belief in ‘the marketplace of ideas’ and the modern preference for believing in conspiracy theories that absolve us of responsibility – and/or blame somebody else – for bad things that happen?
I was somewhat surprised at your criticism of the 255 National Academy of Sciences (NAS) signatories to a letter in Nature and the Guardian newspaper in May 2010 (i.e. that many were not actively involved in climate science) because you are the only climate scientist amongst sixteen signatories to a letter that appeared recently in the WSJ (which also refused to publish one signed by 255 relevant academics). Surely, then, it is hypocritical of you to criticise the NAS letter?
One of the many graphs you displayed showed at least a 0.6 Celsius rise since 1860 (although Richard Muller’s BEST study would suggest (as have many others before) that the increase is more than this). However, despite the relative climate and sea level stability over the last 7,000 years, you dismissed this as not “statistically significant”. Can you tell me at what point you would consider a rise to be statistically significant; and why? Are you not worried at all by the fact that, due to the massive inertia in the climate system, more warming is already “in the pipeline”?
You also criticised the dubious practice of manipulating the axes of graphs to misrepresent data and/or convey misleading ideas. However, at least one of your graphs did exactly that (i.e. steeply inclined Keeling Curve superimposed on cherry-picked slightly-declining, temperature gradient) [see important Footnote]. I would therefore agree with you, as the use of such tactics is clearly capable of suggesting that there is no correlation between two variables that are very well correlated indeed. Furthermore, I would be interested to know what your reaction is to the ‘Still Going Down the Up Escalator’ article on the SkepticalScience Website? Will you at least admit that Global Warming did not stop in 1998?
You mentioned in your talk that the Sun was 20% dimmer 2000 Ma BP and that the Earth was much colder back then (i.e. ‘Snowball Earth’). However, it has been much warmer in the past as well. This would appear to demonstrate that the Sun is not a dominant cause of current warming. Furthermore, the USGS have recently confirmed that volcanoes are not either. Despite your misgivings about use of the word “incontrovertible”, would you accept these assertions as at least highly likely to be true?
Although not the strongest greenhouse gas (GHG), CO2 is the most abundant, long-lived, GHG there is (i.e. water vapour is much more abundant but comes and goes; whereas methane is 23 times more powerful as a GHG but is much less abundant). Furthermore, CO2 is the only thing capable of explaining the warming we have seen over the last 150 years, because CO2 is the only thing that has changed significantly (i.e. increased by 40%) in that time. Surely this is what is known in science as a “fair test”? Nothing else has changed significantly (not the Sun, not cosmic rays, not water vapour, not volcanic eruptions). Given all of the above, can you please explain to me why you continue to assert that the science behind concern over the enhanced greenhouse effect is uncertain?
Towards the end of your talk, you mocked the alarmism of the 1920s. However, it was about that time that the first photographic records were made of glaciers in the Himalayas and elsewhere. Recent similar expeditions have proved that very significant loss of glacier ice-mass (i.e. depth and length) has occurred in 90 years and, in the case of South Georgia (i.e. the UK territory in the South Atlantic!) it is known that most of the retreat has occurred in the last 30 years. Furthermore, as an example closer to your home, it is currently estimated that in Montana, Glacier National Park has already lost over 75% of the 150 glaciers first observed (by Europeans) in the 1880s and, even at current rates of melting, they are all expected to have disappeared by 2030. At what stage do you think the National Park should be re-named? Would it not be a good idea for humanity to collectively agree to try and stop this happening elsewhere by moving rapidly to a low/zero carbon economy?
Finally, for the record, the 3 questions I had prepared (to which I would still also be delighted to receive answers), are as follows:
Concern over anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) is based on the study of palaeoclimatology, not on computer modelling. However, models have helped to predict the atmospheric response to greenhouse gas emissions; and any uncertainties in model predictions have been due to uncertainties in emissions projections. Therefore, when reviewed retrospectively (choosing the most appropriate emissions scenario that reflects what actually happened to emissions), the models are demonstrably very accurate (if they include all climate forcings). Given all of this, why is it that you maintain that we have no reason to be concerned?
What is your answer to Utah-based Professor of Geological Sciences, Barry Bickmore, who recently suggested that today’s so-called climate “sceptics” are not like Galileo because, rather than fighting against one, they are fighting for an obscurantist and anti-intellectual Establishment, in an attempt to perpetuate the burning of fossil fuels for as long as possible?
Given the findings documented in Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway’s book, Merchants of Doubt, can you please tell me why, having fought for so long on behalf of the tobacco industry to prevent legislation to minimise the harmful effects of smoking, you have apparently focused instead on helping the fossil fuel lobby deny that anthropogenic climate disruption is happening?
At 28 mins and 30 seconds into this video of the talk, it can be clearly seen that Lindzen presented a slide with the steeply inclined Keeling ‘curve’ overlain with static or slightly-declining recent temperature data. This slide does not appear in the published PDF of this presentation. Why is this?
For the avoidance of any doubt about this, here is a screenshot of the “missing” slide as it appears in the video: